Genome-wide association reveals QTL for growth, bone and in vivo carcass traits as assessed by computed tomography in Scottish Blackface lambs

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Abstract / Description of output

Improving meat quality including taste and tenderness is critical to the protection and development of markets for sheep meat. Phenotypic selection for such measures of meat quality is constrained by the fact that these parameters can only be measured post-slaughter. Carcass composition has an impact on meat quality and can be measured on live animals using advanced imaging technologies such as X-ray computed tomography (CT). Since carcass composition traits are heritable, they are potentially amenable to improvement through marker-assisted and genomic selection. We conducted a genome-wide association study (GWAS) on about 600 Scottish Blackface lambs for which detailed carcass composition phenotypes, including bone, fat and muscle components, had been captured using CT and which were genotyped for ~40,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) using the Illumina OvineSNP50 chip.

We confirmed that the carcass composition traits were heritable with moderate to high (0.19 to 0.78) heritabilities. The GWAS analyses revealed multiple SNPs and quantitative trait loci (QTL) that were associated with effects on carcass composition traits and were significant at the genome-wide level. In particular, we identified a region on ovine chromosome 6 (OAR6) associated with bone weight and bone area that harboured SNPs with p-values of 5.55x10-8 and 2.63x10-9, respectively. The same region had effects on fat area, fat density, fat weight and muscle density. We identified plausible positional candidate genes for these OAR6 QTL. We also detected a SNP that reached the genome-wide significance threshold with a p-value of 7.28x10-7 and was associated with muscle density on OAR1. Using a regional heritability mapping approach, we also detected regions on OAR3 and 24 that reached genome-wide significance for bone density.

We identified QTL on OAR1, 3, 24 and particularly on OAR6 that are associated with effects on muscle, fat and bone traits. Based on available evidence that indicates that these traits are genetically correlated with meat quality traits, these associated SNPs have potential applications in selective breeding for improved meat quality. Further research is required to determine whether the effects associated with the OAR6 QTL are caused by a single gene or several closely-linked genes.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGenetics Selection Evolution
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 8 Feb 2016


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